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Depping in Theatre

The deputy system is an efficient and long-established way of organising musicians. 

Last updated: 08 March 2024

Our theatre agreements refer to the use of deps through a ‘code of conduct’. However, always check with the Fixer and review the contract to understand the rules regarding deps.


Most fixers require at least one sit-in before the dep's first show. You will need to give the dep a copy of the pad ahead of the sit-in and, if available, a link to the video cam of the MD with audio.

Under the MU/UK Theatre agreement, it states that if the manager asks that a Dep sits in for more than one performance or rehearsal, it becomes the manager's responsibility to pay for subsequent sit-ins for that chair. However, check your contract for house rules, especially if not covered by collective bargaining agreements. If you're unclear about your contract details, don't hesitate to contact us for clarification.

Confirmation and agreement

The chair player is generally responsible for arranging their approved dep to cover for them when they are absent. Whilst this may be facilitated by using a ‘fixer’ or orchestra manager, the primary responsibility should lie with the chairholder.

Once the dep has been agreed upon with the relevant manager or fixer, it is essential that the chairholder sets out the agreed dates and fee in writing.

Always ensure you confirm the booking and receive confirmation from your dep, even if they cover for you regularly. Double-check a day or so before the scheduled date – this step is essential, even with a regular dep. Additionally, clearly communicate which instruments/accessories (like mutes) and equipment will stay in the pit and what the dep needs to bring.

New deps should receive details on fees, show timings, and local rules before their first show. Make sure you get confirmation from the dep that this has been received. We would also recommend providing the contact information of the fixer and the MD on hand in case of an emergency.

Payments and cancellations

The person booking the dep may be legally liable for payment, even if there are payment issues with the producers – unless otherwise stated, handling dep payments is your responsibility.

Clear communication on any additional compensation owed is vital. Ensure timely payment to your deps, no less than what you receive, and agree upon covering any tour-related travel costs at the booking stage. Backdated pay rises and relevant overtime payments should be promptly passed on to the deps.

Cancelling a dep should only happen if the show itself is cancelled. Occasionally, a chair player may have to perform on a show they've already depped out. If so, communicate this possibility at the booking stage to avoid misunderstandings with your deps.

In the event that the chair player is receiving sick pay, this should be paid to the chair player in addition to their basic salary.

Avoid assumptions and leave nothing to chance.


Musicians with regular theatre work will need deps. Observing from a player's perspective can provide valuable insights into the unique challenges and nuances of playing in a pit.

Your role will start with a sit-in. This may be arranged because you have already been booked to do some dates, or it might be a preliminary process. Make sure that you are clear about which one of these it is.

A sit-in is where the dep sits next to (ideally where space permits) the chairholder during a performance with a copy of the pad, makes notes, and asks questions when appropriate. When sitting in, it's essential to follow the pit rules, which usually include not using your phone and wearing appropriate black clothing. Ask the chair player before the sit-in if any rules need to be observed. During the performance, please be considerate of the chair player and their colleagues by avoiding any disruptions to them or other players.

Read the Navigating the Pit guide

If you are the dep, it’s in your best interest to do plenty of preparatory work and be prepared to play the show as close to the same way as that of the regular player. You are unlikely to be afforded a rehearsal, and the expectation will be that your first show will be near perfect. A helpful tip is to run through the show as often as possible (alongside the recording if provided) to gauge the stamina required.

Be prepared to take constructive criticism from the MD or other members of the band; remember, it’s the musical integrity of the show that is important. If approved as a dep, you may be added to a list of deps for a particular show or even considered as a chair holder on a future show.

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